Mixed and Mastered

studioLes Nuby and Jason Hamric

Written by Brett Levine // Photography by Beau Gustafson

Great music production teams often garner nicknames—think the Glimmer Twins or the Dust Brothers—but for two talented Birmingham-based friends a catchy title couldn’t improve on the incredible work they already do and the partnership they have.

The two, musician and producer Lester Nuby III, and musician, producer and mixing engineer Jason Hamric, have paired to become one of the most collaborative and creative mixing and mastering duos locally and nationally. If you don’t know their names, you know their sound: Nuby cut his teeth as the rock-solid drummer for seminal Alabama band Verbena before decamping to Los Angeles for a decade, although that didn’t stop him from standing front-of-stage as the guitarist for Vulture Whale. Hamric has a hand in almost anything musically related here in town: open a link to Substrate Radio, or listen to the recent Nerves Baddington album and Hamric is on the other end. So, when you think of two people who are locked in to the creative community in town, it would be hard to go past Les and Jason.

Although friends for years—“I started to play guitar because I saw Les play,” Hamric remarks—they became more engaged musically after Nuby returned to Birmingham in 2009. “I had an opportunity to open a studio. There were other studios here, but I thought a room this size could sound perfect.”

Hamric’s path to mastering was a little more unexpected. “Jason has always tended to be a knob tweaker,” Nuby laughs. “The biggest question people used to ask Jason after they’d finished a record was, ‘Can I come listen to this in your living room?’”

When digital technology emerged, Hamric was well ahead of the curve. “I’d started with four-track, then eight-track recording; then I’d moved on to digital audio tapes, and finally to all digital. When I got interested in mastering, I literally read everything I could on the practices and process. I thought the most interesting thing I could do in the recording process was to literally find new and innovative working methods.”

His focus was well rewarded, because it resulted in a reputation as one of the best sets of “ears” around. “It is literally like Jason has a natural talent for mastering,” Nuby remarks. “If people don’t really understand what it means, Jason’s the guy that ensures that everything just sits well in the mix. And when he listens to something, and makes a suggestion, I know it is because he has the project and the product’s best interests at heart.”

In a world of online mixing and mastering opportunities, this type of trust is not taken for granted. “I think of it this way,” Hamric pauses. “When someone brings you their heart and soul, it is a hell of a responsibility.”

Nuby agrees: “I may be able to sonically manipulate bands that I produce to help them arrive where they want to be. But at the end of the day, mastering is the most important final move you can make.”

Asked why their producing and mastering partnership seems so effortless, both pause. Nuby, always the comedian, smiles. “Well, it’s either the building or it’s Jason and me.” Then, more seriously, he continues, “I think of the studio as an affordable, cool place to be creative. I want to think at the end of the day I’ve done right by these people, they’ve felt like it was their space, and they’ve truly been encouraged to play together.” Bands that have taken the opportunity include Vulture Whale, Fire Mountain, and Perry Brown.

Adds Hamric: “Then, when you think about it, even though the projects we’ve done together cross so many genres I would like to think that we’ve helped to create a Birmingham sound. Per capita, Birmingham may have more talent than any city I’ve ever been in, and I want these people to be spotlighted.”

Both also acknowledge a debt to years spent in the industry. As Hamric remarks, “We had a large learning curve early on, so we had to learn to use a compressor.”

All the patience and persistence has paid off, with bands eager to have Nuby behind the desk producing, and him eager to recommend Hamric for the final tasks. On any given evening, driving past Ol Elegante Studio, you may have no idea what is going on inside. But on a cool autumn evening, when a car slides past with its windows rolled down, and you catch the sound of Birmingham’s newest hit thumping from Substrate on the speakers, it may well be that the tracks that were laid down were mixed by Les Nuby—then mastered by Jason Hamric so he could be sure that it would sound just as good at max volume in his living room as it would to you as it was passing by on that ride.

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